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Book Club: A ranch in Compton offers peace and sanctuary

The Compton Cowboys, with Randy Hook riding lead
The Compton Cowboys, with Randy Hook riding lead at the June 7 Peace Ride, culminating at Compton City Hall.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

Writer and photographer Walter Thompson-Hernández has traveled the world to explore diverse subcultures from Ghana to Oaxaca, Mexico. But he was drawn back to his Southern California roots to write a book about the culture of Black cowboys and the Compton ranch where they find healing and hope on horseback.

In advance of our June 24 book club meetup, Thompson-Hernández talks about immersing himself in the world of “The Compton Cowboys,” and the story’s relevance to the current civil rights protests.

“I think what the past few weeks have really underscored is that it’s still ultimately an incredibly dangerous and a violent place for Black Americans,” Thompson-Hernández says. “It made me think about the places that Black Americans throughout time — and especially right now — have had to forge in the world or their communities to find safety.”

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For the Compton Cowboys, that place is Richland Farms in the heart of Compton, where Black cowboys have been welcomed since the 1950s. The group’s motto: “Streets raised us. Horses saved us.”

Read an excerpt from the book here. And check out the Compton Cowboys on a peace ride through their city.

The Compton Cowboys ride down South Tamarind Avenue, along with thousands of protesters, during a June 7 peace ride.
The Compton Cowboys ride down South Tamarind Avenue, along with thousands of protesters, during a June 7 peace ride through the city.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

10 questions


Thompson-Hernández also shared with us some of his favorite diversions, his greatest challenge and the biggest surprise writing his first book.

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The last book that kept you up at night: “Blind Spot” by Teju Cole

Favorite book to reread: “Monkey Hunting” by Cristina Garcia

Favorite music right now: “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” by Bill Withers (the live version at Carnegie Hall)

Must-watch TV show: “The X-Files”

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Something you’ve discovered in quarantine: How daring I am. (I’ve given myself three haircuts during the pandemic!)

Guilty pleasure: I really love Masa Pizza in Echo Park, and I think their deep-dish pizza is so much better than any deep-dish I’ve had in Chicago.

The inspiration behind “The Compton Cowboys”: My 6-year-old self. I was also really interested in expanding [my] New York Times feature story in a way that gave the characters and narrative arc more room to breathe.

Biggest challenge writing your book: I’ve never really outlined my stories until writing this book. I could get away with not outlining for 2,000-word stories, but writing an 80,000-word book required chapter outlines.

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The craziest thing you’ve ever done to get a story: I once wrestled with a large lemur in Madagascar for control of my voice recorder.

Biggest surprise during your book research: George Bush Sr. and his family lived in Compton for a short period of time [for six months in 1949].

Walter Thompson-Hernandez, author of "The Compton Cowboys"
(William Morrow)

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Mark your calendar: The L.A. Times Book Club welcomes Thompson-Hernández for a live conversation about “The Compton Cowboys” with Times reporter Angel Jennings at 7 p.m. on June 24.

Sign up on Eventbrite for the free virtual meetup, which will be livestreamed on The Times’ Facebook page. You also can tune in on YouTube and Twitter. We’ll send a reminder before book club night.

Chevalier’s Books has a limited number of copies with signed bookplates for this event.

Share your questions for Thompson-Hernández in advance by emailing us at bookclub@latimes.com.

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More upcoming events: The Times Ideas Exchange hosts virtual conversations with Masha Gessen (“Surviving Autocracy”) on June 16 and Emily Bernard (“Black Is the Body”) on June 30.

Help us get L.A. reading and talking.

The Los Angeles Times Book Club is your chance to help us build something amazing. It’s about much more than the remarkable books we read. It’s about coming together to share an experience.

Stay tuned for more events and conversations, and stay in touch. Tell us: What stories do you want to share? What authors would you most like to meet?


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